Travel » Fashion

48 (Gayish) Hours in Scottsdale

by Matthew Wexler
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Sep 4, 2017
48 (Gayish) Hours in Scottsdale
  (Source:Jamie Williams/Experience Scottsdale)

Sometimes it takes a beer in the middle of the afternoon to appreciate where you've been, where you're headed - and most importantly, where you are. As one who has the task (some might say luxury) of traveling for a living, I've seen some amazing locales throughout the world. Some have big impact, like Shanghai's multiple skylines or the Great Wall of China. Others hit a chord because of the people, like Dublin and Louisville. And then there's Scottsdale.

The Sonoran Desert playground's early days date back to 1888 when U.S. Army Chaplain Winfield Scott purchased a 640-acre plot of land to farm. The city now bears his name and has attracted artists (Frank Lloyd Wright established his winter home here and built Taliesin West), new industries, luxury golf courses and resorts, but has still managed to retain its small town sensibility.


Rehab Burger  (Source:Matthew Wexler)

Back to that beer.

I'm sitting at the bar at Rehab Burger, a packed joint in Old Town that opened in 2012 and has since become a local favorite. Mountain bikes and model airplanes hang from the ceiling, along with surfboards scattered throughout, though the nearest ocean access is more than 200 miles away.

Courtney is behind the bar, hustling hard to meet the demand but sure to greet everyone with a "hi, honey" and a smile. I nurse a local brew until my massive Mac Gnarly Burger arrives, a double patty loaded with cheddar and all the fixins'. Toddlers in booster seats abound, and a couple of millennials pop to the bar for a quick round of Fireball shots before hopping back on their bikes. I think to myself, 'there are worse ways to spend an afternoon,' as I order a second round.


Power Napping at the W Scottsdale
W Scottsdale  

Power Napping at the W Scottsdale

I head to my weekend digs at W Scottsdale for a midday refresh. Celebrating its 10-year anniversary in 2018, W Scottsdale has brought its signature swank to Scottsdale for nearly a decade's worth of revelry. The property anchors Scottsdale's Entertainment District, where a variety of nightclubs and bars such as The Mint Ultra Lounge and country superstar Dierks Bentley's Whiskey Row offer something for everyone.

Though you don't have to look far for a good time. W Scottsdale's signature programming keeps things bustling with live music Wednesdays-Saturdays in The Living Room (including the launch of W TOUR LIFE at W Hotels of the West on October 4). When you feel like you're overheated from too much fun in the sun, you can dip into W Scottsdale's WET Pool 24/7.


The Sun Sets
Second Story Restaurant & Liquor Bar  (Source:Matthew Wexler)

The Sun Sets

Within walking distance of the hotel, I head to founder Tommy Plato's Second Story Restaurant & Liquor Bar. A hit since its 2014 opening, the speakeasy-style establishment features dim lighting, black leather banquettes, and a low-hanging chandelier. The all-female staff is adorned in black lace minis and weighed down with strings of fake pearls, reminding me of the last time my niece raided grandma's closet. Poor uniform choice aside, Second Story delivers a solid menu and innovative cocktail list.

With a whiskey collection soaring over 200 bottles, you can opt for a flight or choose one of the smartly composed mixed drinks such as Local Roots, featuring Spring44 Old Tom Gin, Sibona Chamomilla Grappa, watermelon juice and dandelion root. The menu is divided into "Foreplay" and "Pillow Talk" and includes accessible bites like soy glazed spare ribs, heirloom cauliflower with Sardinian vinaigrette, and Tommy's famous cast iron chicken.

Sufficiently stuffed, I enjoy the five-minute walk to BS West, where you'll find your requisite LGBTQ scene: drag, erotic male dancers, and drink specials. Anchored by Scottsdale's "exclusive 21+ LGBT bar and nightclub," BS West has been entertaining the masses for nearly 30 years. With two bars, two levels, two patios and two VIP lounges, it's a veritable gay Noah's ark. Budget-friendly party hoppers will appreciate 2-for-1 drinks on Wednesdays and Saturdays.


Coffee Talk and Art Walk
SMoCA  (Source:Matthew Wexler)

Coffee Talk and Art Walk

My W Insider (aka concierge) tips me off to Cartel Coffee Lab. From seed to cup, the responsibly sourced beans come from small growers such as Familia Gomez in Colombia and Santa Isabel in Guatemala. I opt for a cortado - the barometer by which I measure any coffee house - and am not disappointed. The low-key crowd lingers, flipping through art magazines, working on their laptops, or snuggling their well-behaved dogs.

Sufficiently caffeinated, I'm off to Old Town and SMoCA, the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. Offering diverse programming that ranges from art, design, and architecture to live performance, the continually rotating exhibits provide curated explorations of themes in modern and contemporary art. Regardless of the time of year, be sure to take a moment to appreciate James Turrell's Skyspace "Knight Rise," located in the sculpture courtyard.

Upcoming exhibits include "Marking the Infinite: Contemporary Women Artists From Aboriginal Australia," featuring the work of nine female artists from remote Aboriginal areas as well as a retrospective of artist/architect Paolo Soleri.


A recent exhibit at SMoCA  (Source:Matthew Wexler)

SMoCA has also embraced the LGBTQ narrative in its exhibitions, restaging last year "Coming Out Under Fire," which included works by civil rights activist Mel Roman. "We work a year in advance for exhibitions, and when the Marriage Equality Act was passed in June, we were excited," said curator Clair Carter in an interview with azcentral. "We wanted to give the community an opportunity to talk about gay rights and what it means a year later, what has changed and what hasn't changed. Mel's work is an interesting combination of empowering people to make a change and channeling that anger into action."

If you're looking to take a piece of the Southwest home, Scottsdale's 70 galleries and museums run the gamut. The best time to take a peek is during the nation's longest running Artwalk, which takes place every Thursday from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. My favorite finds are at America's Fine Art Gallery, a 12,000-square-foot space overflowing with works by Warhol, DalĂ­ and other masters, as well as the Hollywood Collection of Frederick Mellinger - fantastically campy fashion and lingerie illustrations that are as collectible as they are flirtatious.


Best Bites at FnB

It's a woman's world at FnB where co-owner/chef Charleen Badman dishes out a menu that draws inspiration from Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine with an eye on local ingredients. The vegetable-forward menu changes seasonally, but recent highlights include requisite shishito peppers elevated with preserved lemon, halloumi and cured duck yolk; roasted beefsteak tomatoes with oregano, olives, feta and pepperoncini; and locally sourced duck breast with sweet pepper jeow chili paste, zucchini, and potatoes.

Co-owner and front-of-house manager Pavle Milic should also receive a shout-out for his Arizona wine list and recent James Beard nomination for Outstanding Beverage Program. Be sure to scope out his private label, Los Milics, developed in collaboration with Dos Cabezas Wineworks.


LGBTQ Intel

LGBTQ Intel

Mark your calendar for the 2017 Rainbows Festival October 21-22, 2017. Produced by Phoenix Pride, this two-day street fair is held in nearby Heritage Square Park in downtown Phoenix and draws more than 25,000 attendees.


Matthew Wexler is EDGE's National Style and Travel Editor. More of his writing can be found at www.wexlerwrites.com. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @wexlerwrites.


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